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Groundwater remediation unlikely before landfill is fully reclaimed: MCG officials

The Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) is yet to take steps for remediation of groundwater in Bandhwari village, where an active and unsanitary landfill is alleged to have contaminated the underlying aquifer and the drinking water supply of the area
By Prayag Arora-Desai
PUBLISHED ON JAN 24, 2021 10:41 PM IST

The Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) is yet to take steps for remediation of groundwater in Bandhwari village, where an active and unsanitary landfill is alleged to have contaminated the underlying aquifer and the drinking water supply of the area. Officials privy to the matter said the task, despite being mandated by the National Green Tribunal, is unlikely to be taken up before the landfill site is fully reclaimed, but did not clarify when the reclamation process will be completed.

In a recent report submitted to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has stated, “Steps for decontamination of groundwater have not been taken by MCG as the dumpsite is active... Groundwater decontamination may be done after removal of contaminating sources.”

As part of ongoing litigation in the matter, the NGT, last year, had asked the CPCB to “give its independent report of status (of the landfill) as on 31.12.2020, particularly with regard to ground water contamination and proper manifest system for treatment of leachate...”

The ongoing dumping of nearly 2,000 tonnes of mixed municipal waste per day at Bandhwari, along with the presence of at least 3.3 million tonnes of non-bioremediated legacy waste, make groundwater remediation a challenging, if not nearly impossible, task, officials said.

Residents of at least two nearby villages, meanwhile, said they are growing increasingly reliant on private tankers and packaged drinking water to meet their needs. They also warned of a possible public health crisis in the nearby settlements of Bandhwari, Mangar, Baliawas, Dera and Gwal Pahari, where groundwater continues to be used for bathing, feeding of cattle, and irrigation. Locals have also claimed a high incidence of cancer and other unusual health conditions as a result of groundwater contamination from the landfill, although this claim is yet to be proven epidemiologically.

Dhiraj Kumar, joint commissioner, MCG (Swacch Bharat Mission), confirmed that there are no immediate plans to assess the extent of, or remediate groundwater contamination in the area. “There is not much that can be done about it immediately. Even if one were to try and decontaminate the water table, it wouldn’t get rid of the landfill itself, which is the alleged source of the problem. Our focus is to treat all the remaining legacy waste and process about 20,800 kilolitres of leachate which has accumulated at the site. If we can control the leachate, then there is no threat of groundwater contamination.”

In this regard, the CPCB report notes that some progress has been made, with nearly 12,200 litres of accumulated leachate having been successfully treated in the last four months, using three different leachate treatment plants on site. The treated leachate (about 550 kilolitres per day) is then sent to the Behrampur sewage treatment plant for further processing. “Test reports of treated leachate are meeting the standards for treated leachates specified in Schedule II of SWM Rules 2016,” the CPCB report states.

Kumar, as well as a senior official in the MCG’s sanitation department, expressed doubts over the extent of groundwater contamination in the area.

“There is no evidence of it existing, or existing due to the landfill. We had carried out tests in 2018 as part of an environmental impact assessment, for the waste-to-energy plant, which is going to come up in Bandhwari. The EIA report did not find any presence of groundwater contamination,” said the sanitation inspector, seeking anonymity.

However, this claim runs contrary to past assessments. A 2017 inspection by the CPCB, ordered by the NGT, found that the groundwater contained iron, manganese, boron, calcium, chlorides and nitrates in excess of the country’s drinking water standards (IS 10500:2012). An independent report from 2015, by Rekha Singh, an environment expert certified by the Quality Council of India (under the MoEFCC), found that the groundwater in Bandhwari contained calcium, cadmium, magnesium, fluoride, phenolic compounds and mercury in excess of the country’s drinking water standards.

Rajender Harsana, a dairy farmer from Bandhwari, said, “There are about 2,000 households in the village. More and more are shifting to getting their drinking water privately, either in the form of tankers or bubble-top packages. I would urge authorities to have a look at the quality of water that our borewells are giving. Buying filtered water is very expensive for most of us. My children drink milk from cows that are given the polluted water. I am worried about the long-term impact this will have on their health.”

In August 2019, a report by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute suggested that contamination from the landfill has likely spread downstream via the underlying aquifer, to the neighbouring villages of Mangar, Baliawas and Gwal Pahari. Groundwater samples from 14 locations within a five-kilometre radius of the landfill were found to be “highly contaminated” with pathogenic bacteria and heavy metals in excess of the country’s drinking water quality standards.

MCG officials declined to comment on the findings of these reports. MCG commissioner, Vinay Pratap Singh, could not be reached for comment on Sunday despite multiple attempts.

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